With three undefeated regular seasons in the last five years and seven consecutive bowl appearances, Boise State has officially cast off the Cinderella title, much like Gonzaga in the college basketball ranks. Scout.com has the Broncos ranked No. 24 in its preseason poll, but this team could easily go undefeated and finish much higher in the rankings. If that happened and USC, the SEC champion and Big 12 champion each have more than one blemish on their records, Boise could be looking at a national title shot - but that scenario is highly unlikely. Before another perfect season possibly goes down in the books, Boise will have to defeat out-of-conference teams like Oregon, Miami and Tulsa. The first two opponents are at home (also Nevada) where the Broncos have enjoyed a 64-2 record on the blue turf the last ten years.
Kellen Moore will return to the driver's seat at quarterback after defying expectations last year as a redshirt freshman. Moore threw for 3,486 yards and 25 TDs against 10 INTs, giving him a passing efficiency rating of 157.12, good for No. 12 in the nation. Running back Ian Johnson is gone (seemed like he was there for ten years) so senior Jeremy Avery will have to pick up the slack. He was a workhorse last season, toting the rock 111 times while amassing 614 yards and four TDs. The wide receiver corps will be somewhat of a concern with three of top four wideouts from 2008 having left. Austin Pettis is the primary target returning after hauling in 49 passes for 567 yards and 9 scores last season.
Defensively, the Boise State secondary will be awesome, returning all four starters who intercepted 22 passes last year. The unit is led by all-world cornerback Kyle Wilson who blankets receivers (5 INTs) and doesn't miss tackles. This grouping ranked No. 2 in the country last year in pass efficiency defense, and that is remarkable considering most teams get down early and have to throw all day to get back into the game against Boise. Jeron Johnson is an All-WAC free safety who totaled 71 solo tackles last season, a mark good for No. 11 in the country. The backers are the biggest concern for the Broncos on defense. Only fifth-year senior Derrell Acrey is back with a couple of sophomores in the mix around him. The defensive line lost three starters, but will still be able to provide solid pressure. Defensive end Ryan Winterswyk is the leader of this unit after notching 40.0 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks last year.
You can't preview Boise without talking about the punter/placekicker, Kyle Brotzman. He ranked No. 4 in nation with a 39.57 net average, and held nearly a 45-yard punt average. The Broncos usually don't have to play a game of field position, but if it comes to that, the team has one of the best booters in the nation to do it.
Boise State Offensive Line versus San Jose State Defensive Line. Much like the key matchup with USC, if the Spartans are going to have a chance in the game, this grouping must expose the Broncos in this area. Even though the Boise O-line returns three starters, there is still uncertainty if that trio will continue to play because spring reports have accounted that four of the five starting spots have yet to be confirmed. Moore's blindside, the left tackle position, is still open for competition. Who knows what could happen to Boise State if Moore gets flustered. The kid hasn't really been put on his back that much after only going down 13 times all of 2008 with the most sacks surrendered in a game being just two. Moore is the son of a football coach so he is probably prepared mentally for a game on his back, but rattling his cage may be best game plan for beating Boise.
In last year's ESPN2-televised contest at Spartan Stadium in front of 26,000 fans, San Jose State pulled into a 6-6 tie toward the end of the first frame after Justin Cole returned an interception for a 62-yard touchdown. Boise State dominated time of possession in this contest by nearly double (39 minutes to 20 minutes), and did this with Moore methodically moving the ball down the field with 5-yard slants and 10-yard outs, racking up first down after first down. Another key stat was third-down conversions where Boise was able to covert half of its opportunities (8-of-16) while the Spartans only converted 3-of-13. San Jose State will be forced to rely on the ground game with the Broncos boasting such a great secondary and will need to keep this a low-scoring affair to have a chance. Much like last year, the Spartans will keep the game interesting until halftime, but Boise's defense will again create problems for the SJSU offensive attack. Boise State wins this one by double digits.
Scott Cooley is a Contributing Analyst to Inside Sparta. You may contact Scott with any questions, comments, or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org
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